Ahead of next month’s ionSearch, we spoke to organiser Fergus Clawson about his vision for the event, what we can look forward to and much more besides…
1. It’s the inaugural ionSearch event; obviously there are a range of search and digital events across the UK, so how do you see ionSearch differentiating itself?
That’s a good question. Rather than trying to explain why ionSearch is different to other conferences I will explain what ionSearch is and what it hopes to achieve.
ionSearch is an advanced search marketing conference where the speakers involved intend to push the boundaries and will explore all things SEM, with the agenda consisting of talks on SEO, Link Building, Content, Social and PPC. The day will consist of three main components; the Main Auditorium, the Experts Panels and the Search Tools suite.
The main auditorium will play host to the nine keynote speakers. Each speaker will have 40 minutes to present their thoughts and insights to the delegates. We feel that 40 minutes will allow the speakers enough time for them to delve deeper into their subject areas, allowing delegates to take away actionable skills from leading experts.
The expert panels will have set agendas, however the panel members will encourage audience participation. This will ensure there is a two way conversation between the audience and the panel. Key sessions include: SEO for Ecommerce, MY SEO Tool Kit, Killer Keyword Research, SEO Content Strategies, Creative Link Building Tactics, SEO for Ecommerce, Maximising ROI for high-turnover PPC Campaigns, How to Use Twitter, Facebook and G+ for SEO, Mobile SEO and SoLoMo and Black/Grey/White Hat – where do you Draw the Line? Plenty of room for debate, insight and discussion!
The Search tools suite will feature some of the latest SEO/PPC tool technologies. This type of a session can typically be a bit of a conference turn-off at risk of being directly pitched to. I can safely say however that the speakers in the tools suite will not be delivering a sales pitch, instead they will show how various tools can help maximise search campaigns. SEOs at the coal face know the need for good tools and without them their work would be a lot more laborious, less productive and less insightful; that’s why we feel it is important to include a room dedicated to search technology. Kenshoo, Wordtracker, Linkdex, CognitiveSEO, AnalyticsSEO and SearchMetrics will be in the tools suite so it’s a heavy weight line-up.
There will be also a Speakers’ Corner at ionSearch so there will be a chance for delegates to get onto their Search soap box.
Last but not least of course is the location. Currently there isn’t a midweek business-centred search conference in Leeds (our office in based in Leeds) and the North is a hotbed for Search Marketing so it makes sense to bring some of the top names in search and local talent together. We have set tickets prices as low as possible; we want delegates to feel they are getting excellent value for money. The conference won’t just be all work and no play, however! There will be an after party and plenty of networking opportunities.
We want delegates to go back to their various workplaces and feel they have been treated to a top end conference. Most importantly the delegates will use the knowledge obtained at ionSearch and hopefully implement much of it within their search campaigns (and come back in 2013 for more!).
The ionSearch Conference is building momentum and we’ve received lots of positive feedback from the wider search community. The team who run the SASCON conference, based in Manchester, are particularly helpful and we thank them for their support.
Use this discount code to get 10% off the standard ticket price: IONSEARCH10 – www.ionsearch.co.uk
2. What are the main sessions you’re looking forward to seeing yourself?
For the main keynote speakers it’s hard for me to favour a particular session as I know each speaker will bring something special to the table on the day. For example Nick Garner (Head of Search at Unibet) will run the G+ session with Matt Bush (Head of Agency at Google). Nick and Matt will go head to head and will explore G+ from a user and business point of view.
Lee Odden (CEO TopRankBlog) and Dave Snyder (CEO Steelcast) are both flying in from the US exclusively for ionSearch. I am really looking forward to what they both have to say. I’ve seen Martin MacDonald (SEO Director at Expedia) speak before and he didn’t disappoint so I’m sure his talk will be full of the latest insights and actionable advice. Of course I can’t forget Kevin Gibbons (SEOptimise), I haven’t seen Kevin talk yet but I’m sure he’ll deliver the goods. :)
The panels and tools sessions will be full of tips and tricks. The last panel of the day Black Hat/Grey Hat/ White Hat where do you draw the line featuring Martin Macdonald, Ralf Tegtmeier, Dave Snyder and David Towers will attract a big audience and any session with the words ‘black hat’ in it usually causes a stir.
3. What do you think have been the biggest game changers in search during the last 6 months and should be the key takeaways from the event?
I’ll tackle this from an SEO perspective. In my opinion the biggest game changers during the last six months are the following:
- Quality Content – As most SEOs already know, the Google Panda update dial is still turning towards good quality content, especially during the last six-twelve months. Content backed by social shares (Likes, Tweets, +s etc) is now the order of the day. In today’s climate an SEO has to be whiter than white if they wish to join the Google content party. A recent blog post by Lyndon Antcliff, who is speaking at ionSearch, highlights the need to create magnetic content. I’d go one step further and say magnetic content backed by author rank is where SEO will be heading in the next 12 months. Semantic Search friendly content will also be vital, see point 5 below.
- Negative SEO is on the Rise – The trend for White Hat content driven SEO has left the door open to spam attacks. It’s far easier and cheaper (than White Hat SEO) to build a set of low quality links towards a site and trick Google into thinking a site is over-optimised. White Hat SEOs need to be alert; negative link building attacks (or link bombing) could be blatantly obvious or more subtle than a creeping vine and negative SEO could grow and become a major problem. Spammy social mentions and citations on low quality domains will become increasingly damaging to sites. It will be interesting to see how Google can monitor this and not penalise a site when it has been attacked. Google will need to become more customer focused and easier to contact when an attack occurs. The potential loss of income due Negative SEO could be huge; Google must appreciate this and will have to offer a service to deal with such issues far more rapidly than it does currently (the painfully slow Webmaster Tools requests).
- Author Rank and Influence – A G+ profile allows Google to know who the actual author of a piece of content is (see Yoast’s post on rel=author). In short G+ legitimises content. I firmly believe rel=author content and the G+ profile links associated with this content will be the most powerful links moving forward. Influencers and entities who have strong G+ accounts, a social presence, produce awesome semantic content, have quality links and citations will own the SERPS. Justin Briggs recently wrote a fascinating post on his blog about search entities. It’s well worth a read. To my mind it’s the best SEO blog post I have read in the last 12 months.
- Paid Links – If you wish to rank for the long term then there is no point buying a number of footer, thin content (with stuffed keyword anchor text) or sidebar links. Google will eventually see this and will penalise the target site accordingly. Google has been cracking down on sites that overtly partake in paid link activity, especially during the last few months. The paid link model will move towards social shares (by key influencers), citations, author sponsorship, advertorials and subtle anchor text placements. I recently listened to a talk by a well-respected agency and they declared they no longer pay for links. I challenged this. My argument is every SEO ‘buys’ links whether it’s content creation, online PR or social shares, SEO cannot ever be 100% organic. The difference is some paid links are more blatant than others. Let’s be honest and sensible about paid links, most SEOs would not turn down a link on a key blog if the author of that blog asked for £50 for their time and effort.
- Semantic Search – Google purchased Metaweb in 2010 and Google have been a busy ever since creating their semantic indexation processes. Semantic Search is another move by Google to improve its search results for certain queries (and keep users on its pages). Individuals looking for answers for particular complex questions will, according to Google, receive more accurate data. The move towards semantic search will force SEO practitioners to think again how best to develop content. I guess in most cases content will need to rewritten so it fits with Google’s semantic template. This depends on the nature of the content and what it is trying to achieve. For example FAQ sections could prove to be vital for longer tail searches (how to, why, where, when etc). David Towers (SEO Manager at MEC), who is also speaking at ionSearch, has just released a post on econsultancy which discusses the Google semantic search update. He argues Google’s Semantic Search update will revolutionise SEO. I agree with David. It’s back to content, social, authors and links again!
- Over-Optimised Link Footprints – Google is cracking down on over-optimised link footprints. If a webmaster continues to build spammy links then they will face the consequences in the medium/long term. This is not to say spam type SEO doesn’t work, keyword stuffed anchor txt link building can still achieve top rankings, for less competitive keywords, Google’s algorithm isn’t perfect. Short term slash and burn SEO can harvest high returns. I see numerous sites everyday where spam SEO still dominates the SERPS. I do not condone this type of SEO. My advice is to build links carefully, keyword mix your anchors, with brand terms being the most dominant, most importantly build links within content that will be noticed and shared.
- Local Search – The Venice update added local listings into Google’s organic results, even when location was not specified in the query. This inevitably has a big impact on SEO, particularly for nationwide businesses targeting short tail terms. The immediate impact of this on search will be that we will see a revival of thin, low quality location based microsites and a push onto paid search for nationwide online businesses.
- Mobile SEO – Search queries on mobile devices continue to grow year on year. SEOs will need to learn more about how SEO works for mobiles and how they can maximise mobile search opportunities.
- Measurable SEO – From my own experience and also speaking with other SEOs clients increasingly want higher level reporting regarding how SEO is calculated in terms of ROI and LTV. I believe technology will play a vital role here. Proactive agencies will build their own tools sets so they can report data more efficiently. This will enable SEOs to demonstrate that their work is making a real impact (or not, hopefully this isn’t the case). Kevin Gibbons will present his ideas on how SEOs should think like a business at ionSearch so I’m looking forward to hearing what Kevin has to say.
- Code – I haven’t mentioned the importance of code yet. Clean and tight code will help boost the overall SEO effort. Google does consider on-site variables such as site speed and bounce rates and has made this more of a ranking factor since the Panda and Venice updates.
In terms of what people can expect to take away from the conference, all of the above points will be discussed in depth by leading experts. The day will focus around these changes and how the SEO industry and related techniques will respond to them, including content marketing, link building techniques, social media, mobile and tools. If you are looking to optimise a site for search this year, ionSearch will provide valuable, insightful and actionable takeaways whatever your level of expertise or niche.
4. The agenda looks great, with a nice mix between presentations, panels and tools – what type of audience is this aimed towards and why do you think people should attend?
The conference is ideal for anyone who has an interest and passion in search and wants to learn the latest tips, tricks and trends. The conference isn’t trying to be elitist and welcomes all corners of the digital community from one-man bands, agencies, in-house teams to directors and CEOs. The conference is aimed at the advanced level, however whether you’re a seasoned pro or an early adopter I expect everyone who attends ionSearch will take much valuable insight back to their office and will use this in their various search campaigns.
Why should people come to ionSearch? Well the line-up is fantastic, it’s fairly priced, it will offer the latest advanced tips in search marketing, it’s in the centre of Leeds, hosted in a great venue, Google will be there, there’s networking, tasty food, it’s a no brainer! Hope to see you there…